March 22, 2005, Easter Vigil
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
There is an old saying in the Church which in the original Latin goes: Lex Orandi; Lex credendi. Loosely translated, it means, as we pray, so we believe. This saying puts into words a reality that is reflexive; by that I mean it goes both ways. On the one hand, if we want to know what a person or community really believes, watch how they pray. On the other hand, if you want to change what people believe, change how they pray.
One example of how this works comes out of the Vatican Council II. One of the most profound theological fruits of the Council was the re-discovery of the Church as the “People of God”. This contrasted significantly from the view of the Church as a hierarchical monarchy, modeled after secular empires such as the Roman and Holy Roman Empires.
The primary way this ancient way of believing was introduced into the life of the faithful was by changing the central prayer of the people: the Mass. The Council introduced such changes as the move from Latin to the vernacular, the reworking of the role of celebrant from someone who says the Mass while the rest of us watched to presider who prays the Mass with us, and the removal of that visual barrier between the “special” people on the altar and the rest of us, the altar rail.
Now some would say that all those changes went too far so that instead of a church that thinks of itself as the people OF God, we have a bunch of Catholics who think they are a people who ARE God. But that is a topic for another day.
I would just like to reflect with you on two applications of that saying. The first has to do with how we as Catholic celebrate Easter. And the second with how we celebrate the sacraments of initiation, espeically baptism and eucharist.
For most of my life, I thought that the celebration of Easter, the most important feast of our faith, was all about Easter Sunday. I never even heard about the Triduum until I well in my 40s. And growing up in the 50s and 60s, Easter celebration was focused on Easter finery, triumphant Alleluias, eggs, baby chicks, all the goodies the Easter bunny brought, bright flowers, all those symbols of resurrection and new life.
Praying Easter as Easter Sunday only focuses on all the good stuff: resurrection, new life, light, and the defeat of death. And because all those things are things that Jesus brings about, it reveals a belief about Easter that says it is something that God will do for us. We endure the penance of Lent and then God blesses us with the glory of Easter.
The Church is much wiser than that though, and the true Catholic prayer of Easter is the Triduum. We must go through the call to service in the washing of the feet, the agony in the Garden, the betrayal of the apostles, the suffering and death of the crucifixion, and the emptiness and silence and abandonment of the time in the tomb before we get to the resurrection and new life. Those are all connected. The Triduum is one feast over 3 days that liturgically connects the call to discipleship, the reality of human suffering to the glory of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life.
The same is true of the way we celebrate Baptism and Eucharist. We used to baptize infants outside the gathering of the community, using tiny drops of water from a salad bowl font over the forehead of a child already arrayed in the splendor of the baptismal garment. Again this betrays a belief that baptism is about the washing and the glory of becoming Christian. With the renewed rite, we bring in once more the reality that we are baptized into Christ's suffering and death, with the flowing water symbolizing Christ's tomb, and we do in the midst of the assembly to reinforce our belief that this whole community is responsible for the welfare of this new member of the body of Christ.
And think about how we still pray the sacrament of Eucharist. For most Catholics, at least in this parish, Eucharist is about the body of Christ. We receive communion only under the species of the consecrated bread become the body of Christ which nourishes us. We come to be fed. We blithely pass by the cup of the blood poured out for us. The blood which calls us to do the same: pour out our blood for our brothers and sisters. The blood which intoxicates us with a love that would die even for the sinners. Blood of Christ? Oh no thank you, I'm good. So I would hope that even if you are not receiving from the cup because of a cold or some other reason, that you stop and reverence this precious blood, praying for the strength to respond to what it demands.
So as we join in praying this Easter as Triduum, community, suffering, death, and then resurrection, and join with Jennifer in celebrating the sacraments of initiation, I hope that praying this way will shape our belief into the fullness of what it means to be Catholic, members of the body of Christ. We are called to service, to nourishing one another, to community, and as hard as it may be, to suffering and dying to self.
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death so that having died with Christ, we too might be raised with him to live in newness of life.